Today’s Victorian State budget is a modest step forward for the environment, however over the coming year the Andrews Government needs to develop a clear policy agenda on climate change and the environment and fund it properly in next year’s budget.
Today’s budget largely delivers on Labor’s pre-election environment and clean energy promises which were useful but unambitious.
However since being elected Andrews’ Government Ministers have said publicly and repeatedly that Victoria is prepared to lead on climate change, renewable energy and the environment again.
Current processes underway to develop a climate change action plan, and renewable energy and energy efficiency strategies for the state have all been supported in this budget with modest funding commitments, but will need serious investment in the coming year if they are to address the state’s environmental challenges.
Significant environmental commitments in the budget include:
– A $12m ‘Climate Change Action package’ which includes reviewing and strengthening the Climate Change Act and developing a Victorian Climate Change Action Plan;
– A $20m ‘New Energy’ fund to support renewable energy and energy storage projects;
– $1.9 m to improve energy efficiency and productivity including conducting a review to strengthen and improve the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target;
– A very large investment in public transport including funding to begin the Melbourne Metro rail project;
– Significant spending of the Environmental Contribution Levy on water programs, including: $10m for riparian (river corridor) land protection; $3m to purchase 8 GL of environmental water for the Thomson River delivering a long-standing promise; $2.5m for the Gippsland Lakes; $1m for the Yarra River Protection Act; $6.8m to improve water quality; and $8m to better manage the climate change threats and impacts for freshwater ecosystems;
– $10 million to improve assets in National Parks and reserves.
Departmental spending on environmental protection has increased on previous years. Additionally the budget committed $30 million to implement the recommendations of the Hazelwood mine inquiry and improve coal mine regulation.
While the government’s commitment to implement all recommendations from the Hazelwood mine fire inquiry is welcome, it is alarming that this terrible event is costing Victorian taxpayers another $30 million. These costs should be recouped from the mine operators not the public.
This highlights yet again that Victoria desperately needs to develop a plan to clean up and modernise our outdated and polluting energy supply and retire our dirtiest power stations and coal mines.
This budget begins to spend the accumulated landfill levy and environmental contribution levy that all Victorians pay. However there remains a very large and growing bucket of funds that have been raised for environmental programs that are not being spent by the state government.
For example in the next year $174 million will be raised from Landfill levies which is required to be spent on environmental programs. There is no shortage of funds needed to deliver an ambitious climate and environment agenda, so now we need to see a clear plan of action to make Victoria an environmental leader.
In conclusion, after several very tough years for the environment in Victoria, with the previous government even banishing use of the words ‘climate change’, the Andrews government’s first budget shows some encouraging signs, but now it’s time to deliver for the environment and match the leadership aspirations with funding and policy commitments.
Mark Wakeham is CEO of Environment Victoria